Neeraj Pandey’s M S Dhoni – The Untold Story is a highly unusual enterprise and never before in the history of cinema has a biopic of an active sportsman been mounted with quite this level of patronage from the subject himself.
This unabashed puff-job has been bankrolled by Dhoni’s long time confidant and business partner Arun Pandey and personally greenlighted by the cricketer.
Objectivity is not, therefore, the film’s strong suit. So what remains untold inevitably puts what is told in the shade.
The director’s hands are forced and he adopts a tame, sterile, straitjacketed approach to the story, depriving M S Dhoni – The Untold Story of genuine purchase.
This is a listless cricket drama more intent on airbrushing the protagonist than on presenting a rounded, hard-nosed, neutral cinematic sketch of the man and the athlete.
The film, though intolerably long, is competently executed and it has a stellar performance from Sushant Singh Rajput, some moments of hilarity, a dash of tragedy and a clutch of strong supporting actors.
But overall, M S Dhoni – The Untold Story does not mirror the Indian skipper’s batting style and it is neither strikingly unconventional nor particularly effective.
It is too starchy and deferential to be anything more than an effete paean to the life and times of India’s most successful cricket captain M S Dhoni.
With the director’s focus firmly on amplifying Dhoni’s greatness, the cricketer’s many career missteps are swept under the carpet.
This film is, in the end, only a fanboy account of the journey of a Ranchi lad who went from the anonymity of being a railway ticket collector in Kharagpur to becoming one of the brightest-ever stars of Indian cricket.
So if you are looking for an insightful, unprejudiced saga, warts and all, this unabashed hagiography will fall way, way short of your expectations.
Rajput impersonates Dhoni to perfection, complete with the gait and mannerisms, but a wayward screenplay negates his game efforts to lift the film out of the zone of mediocrity.
While the director does a good job of capturing the small town middle class milieu of Dhoni’s upbringing, he is unable to dispel the sense of awe and admiration that hangs over the narrative.
Dhoni’s success story simply is not as full of drama as the makers of this film think it is and Indian sport has witnessed far more dramatic real life rags-to-riches stories.
The film catches the game at the grassroots—but instead of the usual portrayal of bureaucratic stranglehold what you see is an unquestioning commitment and passion for the game in the many officials.
In a way, the film then becomes a piece of nostalgia, harking back to the innocent days of cricket.
It would have been interesting to see Dhoni’s engagement with what it has become over the years – a world of big money and bigger misdemeanours and however, the film lets him remain in an idealistic bubble.
Even when he is shown endorsing one product after another (which obviously doubles up as in-film brand promotion) it does so with a sense of indulgence; the whole sequence playing out like a burlesque of sorts.
Pandey could have come all the way up to the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup semi-finals in which we lost but then the film would not have remained the soaring biopic that it is now.
To begin and end with the 2011 finals with the breathtaking top shots of Wankhede, pulsating with the cries of “Indiyaaah Indiyaah”, and Mahi hitting a glorious six to victor – till date the scene seems to have the ability to make even grown up men and women cry.
Pandey’s credit he also forces a few tears to be dropped for the supporting cast of Dhoni’s life – not just the family and friends but the faceless, selfless supporters who left everything behind to watch him hit the ball—“Mahi maar raha hai” and he seems to have hit yet another six with the film.